Richard M. Daley will leave a schizophrenic legacy. On the one hand, he will be remembered for developing and beautifying his city, boosting its economy and its arts, and bringing it together socially and politically; on the other, for turning a blind eye to the cesspool of corruption, greased palms, and sweetheart deals that has festered just under the surface of civic government since the days of his father, the late Richard J. Daley.
Despite the procession of pols marched off to the slammer during Richard M.’s tenure and recent census data showing the horrendous disparities of income and education between white and minority communities, the perception remains that the new Mayor Rahm Emanuel takes over a city bent on reform in a post-racial America.
Any number of legislators, civic leaders, community organizers – even Mayor Richard M. Daley himself – are in a position to claim some credit for improvements. But the slow, decades-long reform movement that cleaned up the worst of the abuses was a complicated struggle, played out under the rules of federal civil rights legislation in the mid-60’s by an unlikely combination of a Republican senator and a handful of crusading attorneys. They not only fractured the racism and repression of the old Democratic machine in Chicago but set the course for all the reforms that followed.
Let’s call them the unsung heroes of Chicago reform.
“Chicago Ain’t Ready for Reform”
On the fateful April night in 1955 when Richard J. Daley was elected mayor, a red-faced, beer-bellied saloonkeeper alderman named Mathias “Paddy” Bauler, danced a little jig and immortally proclaimed, “Chicago ain’t ready for reform yet!”
Not only was it not ready for reform, it was about to double down on clout. In an era when the old urban machines were gasping and wheezing their last, Daley grabbed hold of both the mayor’s post and the county party chairmanship to retool the fearsome Chicago Democratic machine into the nation’s most powerful political organization. He became, in Sidney Lens’s phrase, not the last of the old-time bosses but the first of the new-time bosses.
He did it using a new political model that invited the business and financial communities—two traditionally WASP-ish groups that initially opposed his election–to share in the spoils. Their unwritten pact gave them almost unlimited control of business and real estate development downtown while he worked to stem the spread of Chicago’s burgeoning black population–that also threatened the central business district’s white sanctity.
In Daley’s Chicago, politics was intrinsically tied to race. He used every possible instrument of government, from schools, housing and employment to protective and recreational services to suppress the African American population and created the nation’s most segregated city. It took federal legislation, a potent local civil rights movement and a few brave politicians like Ralph Metcalfe and Al Raby to liberate Chicago’s black citizenry from what some called Massa Daley’s plantation.
But all that might still not have been enough if a youngish, progressive Republican named Charles Percy had not upset the once liberal Democratic icon Senator Paul Douglas in the 1966 election.
The Golden Boy
The handsome Percy, who rose to become head of the Bell & Howell Company at the age of 30, was sometimes called “The Golden Boy” of Republican politics, a well-spoken North Shore entrepreneur who nonetheless championed civil rights and low-income housing.
When Percy took office, federal judges in the Northern District of Illinois were every bit the political hacks that Chicago municipal judges were. They typically emerged from the ranks of precinct captains and owed their first loyalty to party bosses that appointed them. In his first decade in office, Mayor Daley filled the federal bench with former law partners and cronies he could reliably count on to rule against anything resembling reform.
At the urging of the newly formed Chicago Council of Lawyers, however, Percy (who made the official nominations to the federal bench) pledged to vet all his nominees through the council—a reform-minded bar association set up to counteract a then-stodgy Chicago Bar Association known for its obeisance to the Machine. The CCL stringently recommended only highly qualified, non-political judicial candidates.
By the mid-1970s, Percy’s appointments were scattered through the federal courts. At least half the hacks of past years were gone— and the stage was set for a series of groundbreaking lawsuits to reign in the excesses of the political machine and curtail institutional racism in most operations of local government.
The Shakman Decree
In 1969, Michael Shakman was a 25-year-old candidate for delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention who lost his first run for public office by 600 votes. He filed a federal lawsuit charging that political patronage – which essentially required public employees to do political work in exchange for their jobs –was an unconstitutional intrusion into the election process. He noted that more than 600 city workers holding patronage jobs were out campaigning against him in his district.
At the time Shakman filed his suit, there were an estimated 35,000 city and county employees who owed their government jobs to the patronage system. As both mayor and chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, Richard J. Daley and his ward bosses controlled most of them. One of his closest friends on the bench, Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, threw out the case.
Shakman appealed. A new panel of federal judges that included two Democratic judges not beholden to Daley reversed Marovitz and the case wound up back in federal district court. In the district court, a tsunami of facts poured in about how patronage really worked. To stem the flow, the city agreed to a consent decree limiting patronage abuse that came to be known as “The Shakman Decree.”
The Slow Creep of Reform
As the case wended its way through the courts in the 1970s, more units of government were put under its rulings. Eventually, in 1979, two years after the elder Daley died in office, patronage hiring was ruled illegal. That led to an extension of the patronage ban to other units of the county and state governments; and, of course, new subterfuges designed to get around the ban.
In 1994, Federal Judge Wayne Anderson uncovered a city scheme to use private employment agencies to circumvent the hiring ban. By now, a new mayor named Richard M. Daley was in office. He moved to vacate the decree. Anderson not only reaffirmed it, but also appointed a federal monitor to oversee the city hiring practices.
All this came to a head with the notorious “hired truck” scandal in 2004. A Chicago Sun-Times series titled “Clout on Wheels” began as an investigation into how the city spent $40 million on private hired trucks but soon morphed into a larger expose of a sub-rosa system of patronage hiring and phony minority-owned business set-asides. Some 40 city officials were convicted of rigging tests and interviews to get political workers hired; patronage-based groups such as the Hispanic Democratic Organization were disbanded; and top aides of the younger Daley, including patronage chieftain Robert Sorich, went to jail.
“Shakman” remains the longest running reform saga in Chicago history, still making headlines as City Hall lawyers dream up new ways to get around it. Meanwhile, election after election demonstrates a decrease in the Machine’s strength as the grip and power of patronage continue to weaken—but never disappears.
Top of Ballot, Top of Mind
Legendary Secretary of State Paul Powell cut a wide swath through the state legislature in Springfield, both with his keen ability to cajole legislators into seeing things his way and his remarkable knack for turning a phrase and making a buck. During the Constitutional Convention elections in 1969, reformers were aghast when Powell exercised the power to place candidates of his own choosing in top positions on the ballot, even though several candidates may have been in line at the same time when the filing office opened.
An unabashed Powell blustered that, of course, he “breaks ties” himself––otherwise, who knows, “a commonist” might get the top spot.
An ACLU lawyer named Bernard Weisberg, who would later become a federal magistrate, was running for the convention himself and wasn’t amused. He filed a federal suit and got a quick win that led to our current system using a ballot placement lottery to assure all candidates are treated fairly.
Weisberg won his race and helped draft a powerful civil liberties article for the new constitution. When he died in 1994 at the age of 68, he was hailed for a career of accomplishment in civil rights cases. When Powell died in 1970, police found shoeboxes stuffed with $800,000 in cash in his office. And not because he won the lottery.
Massive vote fraud was endemic in Chicago up through the 1970’s. The city’s 3000 precincts were largely run by Republican and Democratic election judges, appointed by party committeemen, but the dearth of Republicans in the city often gave the Democratic ward bosses a chance to appoint both. Independent poll watchers were not welcome so what happened in the polling precincts stayed in the precincts. Police in the polling places turned a blind eye as juggled results often came out.
In 1972, a reform Democratic campaign gave The Chicago Tribune dozens of independent poll-watcher credentials for the primary election. The paper published a series that exposed scores of examples of major vote fraud. Precincts were opening with votes already loaded into the machines. Voter rolls were not updated. And judges routinely “assisted” citizens in pulling the lever for the candidate of (the judge’s) choice. The Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation, and the Independent Voters of Illinois sued the election board to clean up the process.
Thanks to the appointment of a top Secret Service man as board chairman, a consent decree permitted the watchdog group Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts) to edit and rewrite the confusing judges manual. LEAP was then authorized to credential and assign election judges if Republican or Democratic committeemen failed to do so by a date certain, and allegations of vote fraud dropped precipitously in subsequent election cycles.
Honest election judges equal honest elections. Scrub, rinse, repeat.
Gerrymandering preserves incumbency and excludes political undesirables. Well into the 1960’s, Chicago’s 50 wards varied widely in population. The largest was five times the size of the smallest. That’s when the gadfly Sherman Skolnick sued Chicago under the 1962 one-person, one-vote Supreme Court ruling, forcing officials to redraw the ward map following the 1970 census to equalize ward populations.
When the new map was completed, it became clear that equality of size did not assure fairness in racial and ethnic representation. Indeed, council cartographers cleverly used creative techniques––including dilution and concentration––to short-change African American communities of three potential black aldermen and avoid creating a Latino ward.
The concept of racial equity in political representation did not penetrate enough judicial minds in a 1971 suit challenging the remap, but a decade later things changed. A judge ruled in favor of the excluded minorities but not broadly enough to change the outcome. The case was appealed and won.
In 1986, during Mayor Harold Washington’s first term, a new judge ordered seven wards redrawn with black or Latino majorities and special elections held. Victories by two black and two Latino Washington supporters finally gave the mayor the majority he needed in the City Council to end the “Council Wars.” Following the 1990 census, another redistricting lawsuit forced the state to create the first Latino congressional district in Illinois (then and now represented by Luis Gutierrez).
The lawyer for that lawsuit (and earlier ones) was Judson Miner, who in the 1960’s was a founder of the Chicago Council of Lawyers. In the 1980’s, he was Mayor Washington’s chief corporate counsel. By the 1990’s, he was back in private practice where he hired and mentored a young protégé named Barack Obama.
End of The Red Squad
If a police state is one where the military is used for domestic political control, Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Police Red Squad brought us close. It began early in the century as intelligence gathering on anarchists and other “subversives.”
Under Daley, spying expanded to a vast range of community, civil rights and civil liberties groups—including the ACLU, NAACP and Operation PUSH—any organization that dared to criticize his regime. The police Red Squad planted undercover agents and provocateurs in neighborhood associations as well as at independent political gatherings, and the victims of its spying ranged from liberal aldermen to missionary nuns to actual radicals—none of whom had done anything remotely unlawful.
The Red Squad routinely photographed participants and freely shared files with the FBI, military intelligence agencies and the CIA on hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Phony charges were made against them, negative information passed on to right-wing reporters, and, in some instances, organizations were taken over by the plants and led into disruptive actions. Some of the violence at the 1968 Democratic convention was perpetrated by the squad’s provocateurs.
In 1974, three Chicago lawyers filed suit against the Chicago police to discover the extent of the spying. Richard Gutman, on behalf of the Alliance to End Repression, and Doug Cassel and Robert Howard, on behalf of several organizations and individuals (full disclosure: including myself) seeking to open the files. Court records later revealed that when it learned of the suit, the police unit destroyed records on 105,000 individuals and 1,300 organizations. (What remains is housed at the Chicago History Museum and will be available to the public in 2012.) The Chicago Police Department battled the lawsuit in federal court for 11 more years before a 1985 decision fined the city and strongly prohibited any such further investigations of lawful conduct.
The Gautreaux Case
There was a time when Chicago was a model for public housing. The Jane Addams and Lathrop Homes were among the first public housing ever built in the late 1930’s, and low-rise townhouses called the Airport Homes around Midway and the Cabrini homes on the near North Side dutifully welcomed home a generation of returning soldiers after World War II with affordable accommodations.
In 1949, Congress vastly expanded federal funds for public housing, but the program was designed to be a stimulus for the construction industry as much as a social welfare program – and local governments controlled the funds. The Chicago City Council gladly took the money with one proviso: every alderman could reject any proposed public housing in their own wards. Most white aldermen did while venal black council members signed up for as many units as they could get, stacking them up in rows of high rise projects that set the city’s pattern of racial segregation in stone––blacks south and west, whites up north.
In 1966, Alexander Polikoff, now-Federal Judge Milton Shadur and Bernard Weisberg, again through the ACLU, sued the CHA challenging segregation in site selection and tenant assignment under the constitution and civil rights laws. Their plaintiff was Dorothy Gautreaux, an activist in the Altgeld Gardens projects where Barack Obama would years later become a community organizer.
In 1969, federal Judge Richard Austin ruled in favor of Gautreaux and ordered multiple scattered site development of low rise projects throughout the city (just as Elizabeth Woods, the first Chicago housing authority executive director, once envisioned.) The city again stonewalled, resisting every inch of the way.
For the next 18 years, no new public housing projects would go up in the city, and the existing high rises would crumble physically and socially into dangerous slums. In 1987 Judge Marvin Aspen wrested control of the public housing projects from the recalcitrant CHA and broke the logjam. He put a savvy, progressive developer in charge and soon small, subsidized CHA developments that blended into their communities appeared throughout the city, albeit not enough to make up for the pent up demand.
Scattered site housing fared better in the suburbs. In a related suit, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development created the Gautreaux program in 1977 that enabled 7,500 families to use rent subsidies to move into private dwellings in both the city and suburbs. Though the larger pattern of city segregation could not be broken, the legal mandate for housing mobility opened thousands of housing options to minority families. And, by a fraction, we are no longer the nation’s most segregated city.
Desegregating The Schools
Chicago’s poorly performing public school system has been a source of disappointment and consternation to city residents for decades, and no one suffered more from it than Chicago’s African-American population.
On July 4, 1965, civil rights leader Al Raby filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare charging Chicago schools were intentionally segregated by long standing school board policies. His lawsuit cited a multiplicity of ways the school board favored white students over blacks including discrimination in construction of new schools, overcrowding in African-American community schools, the juggling of school boundary lines, discrimination in teacher assignments, and unequal distribution of special programs and services.
The complaint followed years of protests and boycotts––most aimed at the obdurate school superintendent Benjamin Willis––that went largely unheeded. When federal Commissioner of Education Francis Keppel cut off federal funds in response, Mayor Daley called President Lyndon Johnson directly to have the decision reversed. But the issue did not die. Lawsuits filed over the next 15 years, including some by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, were based on the same essential issues raised by Raby.
In 1980 the school board agreed to a detailed order to desegregate as best it could and correct the inequities. The board introduced magnet schools and other nostrums, but the school system students were by then 85 percent minorities so genuine integration was limited. What the lawsuits proved is that separate is not equal, not in Chicago or the South, just as the Supreme Court had said the year before the first Mayor Daley was elected.
Integrating the Police
In the decade from 1958 to 1968, the proportion of blacks in the Chicago Police Department actually dropped. When figures were first reported, blacks constituted 25 percent of the population and 25 percent of the force. Ten years later, African-Americans were 35 percent of the population but accounted for only 15 percent of the force.
A newly formed Afro-American Patrolmen’s (now “Police”) League documented the change, along numerous complaints from blacks rejected in the hiring process and officers already on the force who felt discriminated against in assignments and discipline.
The Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, working with AAPL leaders Renault Robinson and Howard Saffold, recruited several of Chicago’s bluest-ribbon law firms to launch a series of suits against the police department charging discrimination in hiring, job assignment and promotions. Based on the massive amount of federal funds going to the police, the U.S. Department of Justice joined the proceedings and the cases were consolidated at trial.
Federal Judge Prentice Marshall, one of Percy’s best appointments, ruled in 1976 that Chicago “knowingly discriminated against women, blacks and Hispanics in the employment of police officers and that the most effective remedy to cure that constitutional malaise is the economic sanction of withholding revenue sharing funds until [they] meet the affirmative requirements of the decree entered pursuant to this decision.”
The department had to change its ways. Minority participation is up, discrimination down—but not out––and disputes over the fairness of testing and promotions continue to generate lawsuits today.
Ditto The Fire Department
A parallel story can be told about the Chicago Fire Department. In 1973, only about 5 percent of the department was black, the U.S. Department of Justice brought suit charging the department with discriminatory hiring. The city responded by hiring no firefighters at all rather than give in. Then in 1980, it signed a consent decree that brought up the level of minority hires to 45 percent, resulting in a department that is now 30 plus percent black and Latino.
Green Parks, Uneven Services
Racial discrimination was so prevalent in those days even the Chicago Park District drew special attention from the Department of Justice. Newspapers ran investigative stories exposing dramatic differences in the funding, maintenance, recreational services and facilities offered in black and Latino parks compared to those in white areas. (The photos alone of disrepair in black parks were shocking.) Citizen groups sued.
The citizen lawsuit was filed against Mayor Jane Bryne and targeted the decades old practices of park district superintendent Ed Kelly, a Northside ward boss who made the parks his own personal fiefdom. When Bryne lost to Harold Washington in 1983, Kelly was dismissed and the city settled the suit with another consent decree.
Over the next five years, the park district working under federal oversight rehabilitated over 500 deteriorated parks and playlots. Park management was decentralized, resources and staffing were more equitably distributed, and local advisory councils were established in every park to give residents a greater voice in local park programming and development.
In the Aftermath of Reform
Was the elder Daley a racist? A case can be made, but it is irrelevant. Before he died in 1977, his government, top to bottom, was found guilty of massive violations of civil rights and civil liberties laws. Institutional racism is far more destructive than the attitude of any individual; however, this individual controlled the institutions.
The combined force of all these lawsuits of his era crippled patronage, made elections fairer, aided independent candidates and empowered Chicago’s minority populations. They made it possible for Harold Washington to become Chicago’s first black mayor. And they gave his successor, Richard M. Daley, countless new opportunities to bring minorities and women into government employment and high political office.
With each passing election it becomes clearer that the old Democratic machine is a fading force, replaced by paid political air wars on television and, more recently, paradigm-shifting Internet campaigns. The success of Rahm Emanuel’s recent mayoral campaign––and the victory of Toni Preckwinkle a few months earlier as county board president––demonstrate that without patronage the old ward bosses no longer have the foot soldiers necessary to carry an election.
Looking back, Shakman, Polikoff, Howard and other veteran reform lawyers agree there are still many compelling issues to be litigated, but some are not optimistic about the outcome because of an increasingly conservative federal bench.
More Conservative Courts
“The courts are less receptive, partly because of changes in the law making it a lot tougher on class actions,” Polikoff says. And the resources to muster civil rights lawsuits are more limited after Congress forbade the federally funded Legal Assistance Corporation from filing class actions.
“The Federal Courts today are highly skeptical of such reform efforts,” Shakman says when I ask him to predict what comes next. He cites as an example Judge Richard Posner’s recent decision remanding the Red Squad case because ”old sins don’t warrant current restraints, the old Red Squad may have been bad but now police need the power to prevent terrorists (this was before 9/11), and federalism means the federal courts should not hamper state governmental action.”
“Richard J. Daley and his administration made attractive targets because their policies were so clearly bad,” Shakman recalls. “Richard M. Daley, while subject to many of the same criticisms was a more sophisticated politician who created a different kind of atmosphere and did not stimulate the same level of reaction.”
Shakman’s law partner, Eddie Feldman, chairman of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, sees ”a generational shift” in young lawyers from the Bobby Kennedy-inspired idealists of the 60’s who saw the world as it could be to a more skeptical brand today.
“Each of the landmark cases you mention,” says Feldman, “were initiated by smart, younger lawyers who were creative, energized and too green to know any better…. Not only might it be the case that today’s baby lawyers are skeptical of litigation as a social-change vehicle, they may be more constrained and timid about filing big cases. Big, established firms are more institutionalized, and, following a few years of job losses, young lawyers in the firms are scared about keeping their jobs.” Nevertheless, most big law firms do set aside time and personnel for pro bono work.
A Ray of Hope
Shakman and Feldman’s assessment is not universal. Polikoff, for one, disagrees in part.
“I don’t think . . . there are no more big targets in civil rights or institutional racism. Institutional racism remains pervasive in many areas. Our criminal justice system, for example, has arguably gotten worse over the last two decades and cries out for large scale, civil right-oriented reform,” he says. “I’ve just attended a conference at which mass incarceration of young black males was described as ¬the great civil rights issue of our day, comparable to the segregation issue.” And there are young lawyers working on it.
The Struggle Continues
To that end Flint Taylor and the Peoples Law Office have continued their struggle to find justice in the criminal justice system. Since 1969, they have pursued unpopular civil rights cases ranging from the murder of Fred Hampton through the recent conviction of former police commander John Burge for torturing confessions out of African American prisoners.
So, too, comes the work of Northwestern University’s Innocence Project, which, with Rob Warden and the school’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, was the force behind former Gov. George
Ryan’s moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois and Gov. Pat Quinn’s signing last week of a permanent capital punishment ban. While not class actions, both were heroic legal efforts in their own right.
Bob Howard, who brought the original Red Squad suit in 1974, among others, has one of the few local firms still pursuing civil rights cases. Every decade, it seems, he files another prospective landmark civil rights suit: against the Rockford school system in 1989 (which he won); the Elgin School District in 2005 (still pending); and against Metra, the Regional Transportation Authority and the State of Illinois (filed in 2010) contending they have conspired to underfund CTA services for minority riders to keep suburban commuter transportation running.
Howard agrees that more conservative courts “have required higher proofs to sustain civil rights cases.” But the 2003 Illinois Civil Rights Act, he says, is “more expansive in its protections than those currently provided by the federal civil rights law” and allows claims to be based on disparate impact without requiring proof of discriminatory intent. This, in turn, creates new opportunities for significant litigation––at least in state court, he asserts.
In the political arena, the mantle of reform seems to have fallen on the shoulders of Tom Geoghegan, a labor lawyer, author and progressive activist who has been practicing in the federal courts for 30 years.
With former Ald. Martin Oberman, Geoghegan filed a suit after the hasty appointment of Roland Burris to Barack Obama’s old Senate seat that should soon put an end to long-term appointments by governors to fill U.S. Senate seats. He is also working on a constitutional case against political gerrymandering that could have national implications.
Another federal lawsuit he developed to reverse Richard M. Daley’s notorious deal privatizing the parking meter system has survived a dismissal motion and is now wending its way through the system. (The basic contention is that city of Chicago had no right to cede control of public streets to private interests.) The IVI-IPO is raising money to support the legal costs and, in the last mayoral campaign, two of the losing contenders (Miguel del Valle and Carol Moseley Braun) endorsed it.
An era that began with Paddy Bauler declaring, “Chicago ain’t ready for reform” ended with every politician on the scene, including the new mayor, promising to bring it. But what Emanuel and the others call for remains vague and often elides the city’s deepest problems.
Patronage is withering on the vine—but the vine is still rooted. Massive election fraud has disappeared but cheating here and there is still with us.
We are no longer the most segregated of cities, but racial and economic inequality remains our most festering sore. No entity continues to call out for reform more than our school system, but the so-called reforms proposed by Emanuel, rooted in those of his predecessor, are technocratic nostrums that have thus far flunked despite reams of flackery saying otherwise.
The heroic lawyers of recent decades wrought reform and changed the city, but reform must be an ongoing process as new issues emerge, such as privatization and the myriad inequities of tax increment financing (TIFs). We’re waiting for the next generation of heroes. Chicago is ready for them.